What should I keep in mind when grading papers?

“Don’t grade.  Respond.  This is not semantics.  Grading is a hack.  It is the worst part of the job.  No one likes it.  It’s massive drudgery combined with really difficult emotions.  So don’t grade.  Respond.  You are getting paid to read student writing and to respond to them about how to improve that writing.  That’s a pretty awesome deal when you think about it.  Getting paid to read and write?   Beats the hell out of working.  So, don’t grade.  Offer your students a human/humane response to their writing.  Give them the same kinds of clear-eyed but encouraging, human response to their utterances that you want to get to yours.  Yes, you eventually have to put some number or letter on their performance, but it is a lot easier to do in the context of an ongoing dialogue, one that carries over from class to class, assignment to assignment.  Seriously — don’t ‘grade.’  Respond.”

“That you are both helping them with your comments, i.e., giving them constructive advice for future papers, and also justifying the grade you correctly perceive the paper as earning.  Also remember that the paper earns a grade; you do not give grades.”

“Keep in mind that students will be overwhelmed if you give them feedback (especially negative feedback) on every aspect of their work.  Also keep in mind that it is your job to give them substantive feedback.  This is the balance you have to strike.  Also, keep in mind that if you mainly mark grammar/style issues, they will be less likely to make any global revisions.  So, think of your comments as guides to revision, even if it’s the last draft.”

“I try not to have anything in mind—particularly my idea of the perfect paper.  Try to see the weaker papers as half full rather than half empty.”

“You need to start by remembering what you asked your students to do. If you asked for a report and you get an argument, address that. If you asked for a film review and you get a summary, address that.

“You also need to read you students’ papers by trying to understand what they are trying to say rather reading for error.

“In other words, if your own teachers always simply marked your errors and gave you a grade, at some point you’d want to ask, ‘Well, what did you think of what I was saying?’ You’d be pretty irritated if the substance of your work was ignored in favor of only marking error.”

“Make a rubric to keep you fair.”


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